Without a formal education in development or I.T., Back End Developer Rokas Diedonis may seem like an odd hiring choice for Zyro. However, his story shows that anyone can succeed in coding with a passion for learning and a hunger for new challenges.
We talked to him about how his background in economics gives him a unique perspective on development problems and how learning to trust your colleagues helps you build better digital products.
How did you get into development initially?
My programming journey started in fifth grade. I went to a weekend developer school at Kaunas Technology University. We learned about programming in terms young people could understand and find interesting.
But after a few years, the tasks changed, and it started to become things like “calculate the perimeter of the triangle,” which made me think, “How will I apply this later?”. So I stopped going.
I decided to study economics because I liked stocks and finance, and when I finished university, I started working in a bank.
It wasn’t as interesting as I expected, but I got interested in automating tasks. I’d get a few hundred thousand prices, and I worked out how to automate that so we wouldn’t need to check them individually. I started spending my time with the bank’s system, creating new automation scripts.
I realized what I find interesting is developing solutions that make people’s lives easier, so they don’t need to do tedious work.
After two years as a developer, I started to look for new challenges to expand my knowledge. How do you scale applications? How can you implement features faster? How could I write good unit tests? These were questions in my mind. Then I found Zyro.
Could you describe your role at Zyro?
I’m a back end engineer (although sometimes I enjoy tinkering with front end code). I work with all the stuff that our users usually don’t see; the logic on how registration and payments work, how a site is created, where it is created, where the data is stored.
I also provide support. If there are things that customers want and we don’t support functionality for it yet, I create new solutions.
Put simply, my job is writing code and making sure that code works. I help carry out unit tests, research new ways to write better code, decide what architecture we should use, and innovate new approaches for problems.
There’s a lot of time management skills required. Because many teams come to us with requests, we have to prioritize what is in the company’s best interest. You try to evaluate each task to see what value it has for our customers.
What was your experience of joining Zyro?
I had a fascinating interview. It was one of the best interviews that they had in my life, but not because it was easy. It was a confirmation of how much I have learned about development in the last year and a half.
I saw at the interview that this is a place where I would fit in. The employees have similar values to mine. They have similar views on work and prioritizing.
One thing that stood out was the jokes. Usually, when I see what kind of jokes the team makes, I can decide whether it’s the kind of place where I’ll fit in. What I heard during the interview were the same jokes that I make.
But the technology stack was also important. For developers, it’s usually important to understand the technology stack being used at a new company. When I ask what technology Zyro uses, it was everything that I was interested in at the time, like Node, Express JS, Vue JS, and Nuxt JS.
I’ve been at Zyro for ten months now, and through my journey, it’s been interesting to see how the product changes and grows at a fast pace.
Do you think you bring a unique perspective because you don’t have a pure development background?
While most developers focus more on technology, I find it more interesting to find a solution to a business problem. This is where my economics background comes in helpful.
I’m not the kind of developer interested only in the new shiny technologies, but instead I’m interested in finding the easiest way to solve a problem.
For example, if we need a feature, I want to know the easiest way to implement it. Sure, we could find some shiny new technology that’s popular in the market and will help create a solution, but that might just create more difficulties.
How have you developed as part of your team since joining Zyro?
As our team is fairly new and we didn’t have many experienced developers (one of the senior developers joined one month after I joined) the team first had to learn to work together.
We learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we know how each of us approaches problems, and which of our colleagues we should call or ask for help on how to approach a problem.
The team learned how to communicate with the other teams. As a startup, it’s really important to communicate with everyone effectively. We learned how to prioritize things because everyone wants everything, and we need to decide what’s important.
We also had a few team building which also helped to build a connection with the teammates outside of work. You then trust your colleagues more than just work buddies, but also as people.
Are there any projects you’ve worked on that stand out?
My first major project in the company was when we implemented a billing platform so that our payments could be handled in a single place.
The project was, of course, challenging because it’s a billing platform, and they are always large. You need to know how every part of the system works and what objectives we are trying to reach.
Moreover, you need to figure out how all of the legacy code will be replaced with the new code, so that it doesn’t impact our current users.
I joined the project and worked on it for three months. I had the opportunity to get to know the other people I was working with. For me, this is the most memorable thing, because now I know I can trust these people.
If a new person joined the back end team tomorrow, what would you expect from them, and what should they expect?
As our senior engineer Darius said, I would expect them to be humble and hungry to learn more.
When you come from outside the organization, you can introduce ideas to improve processes, even a junior developer will have valuable input, but it’s still important to be humble.
I think what a new developer could expect is to join a team interested in helping new colleagues grow. If we stop learning, in half a year, we will be at the same place we are now with no new ideas. So we need to learn what’s happening and what new solutions there are for current problems.
Then we can offer a lot of mentorship. We have really good senior engineer colleagues who help all of us in the back end team grow. That’s not just writing better code but having more wisdom about how to approach problems.
Which of Zyro’s ten values stands out for you as most relevant to you, your team, and your work?
First, I would say Focus because, in a startup, there can be a lot of chaos. Everyone wants everything, and everyone is suggesting stuff, but you need to focus on the important tasks, otherwise you can’t deliver growth for the company.
Another is Biased Toward Action because you can discuss things as long as you want, but sometimes you need to commit to action, even if that action isn’t the best. You won’t know if it is the best action until you get some data. “Minimum viable product” is a popular term in our company.
The third is Ownership because, as a developer, I obviously won’t be making marketing decisions, but I should be interested in how marketing works. If somebody comes with an issue, you shouldn’t answer, “that’s not my job,” but instead help find the person who would know.
Do you have any advice for people considering taking a role like yours?
Developers are in demand right now, and it’s a fascinating career opportunity. You build stuff; you create stuff; you are like an artist. Some people might not consider code to be an art, but it all depends on your perspective.
You’re building stuff that people use and that helps people. This industry is open to everyone.
Take my colleagues and me, for example. We don’t all have a degree in software engineering or I.T.. We taught ourselves out of a pure interest in learning.
Of course, you have to dedicate time to that and work hard, but I think the payoff is great. So if you’re a person interested in building and making stuff, just spend time learning about development or teaching yourself a coding language.
Career opportunities will open to you.